The Other Critics

Nagrant Shoots the Breeze at Reno, Just To Watch Time Fly; Kramer Thinks Poli Marking Time at Little Market

The Southern at Reno.
The Southern at Reno. Photo: courtesy Reno

“The space — brick and rough woods, with tables built of knotty lumber and industrial black metal — has a Portland, Ore., feel,” says Michael Nagrant of Reno. Given that Portland’s food scene managed to inspire an entire satirical sitcom, that may not be an unalloyed compliment, but “There’s sort of a ski lodge-like warmth here. All that’s really missing is a fireplace, unless you consider the wood-fired brick oven behind the counter. And from that oven comes Reno’s best thing: puffy charred and chewy, thin-crust pizzas… This pizza is the cousin of the great Neapolitan pies served around town including those from Nella and Spaccanapoli. However, both those spots are strictly Italian, whereas the pizza slingers at Reno mine other exotic locales. ‘The Hog,’ for example, filled with tender strings of pork belly carnitas, a tangy salsa verde and crumbly white cotija cheese is pure Mexico. My favorite pie is ‘The Southern,’ a Korean/Kentucky mash-up of salty country ham, sweet roast garlic, fiery fizzy kimchi and juicy tendrils of spinach.” [Sun-Times]

We could quote details from Mike Sula’s positive review of The Little Goat Diner, but we really can’t improve on his opening paragraph in toto as a summation of the target audience and how the restaurant serves their needs:

I have a friend who nearly planted his face in a pile of corned beef hash during a late dinner at Stephanie Izard’s Little Goat Diner. For him, the restorative powers of this and other greasy-good, massively portioned, amplified American diner classics (and mutant innovations) came several bourbons too late, and his wingwoman quickly ushered him out the door before he nodded into the crab dip. This left the rest of us with a daunting task. Whiskey-goggled and invincible, we’d already overordered, but two mouths down we were about to get clobbered by a surplus of supersized, animal-fat-saturated food created for eating under the influence.


Perhaps needing a restorative, on the blog Sula checks out the new Red Square Russian bathhouse in the ancient Division Street Bathhouse location: “The old fellows in their woolen banya caps have returned to the newly remodeled bathhouse, now called Red Square. They shout at each other in Russian in the eucalyptus-perfumed Turkish sauna, scrubbing each other down, and beating the holy hell out of each other with birch branches… I wish they served the salami and salt herring from Bellow’s day in the upstairs restaurant, but they do have an overwhelmingly Russian-style menu, with beefy red borscht, plump pelmeni, and a generous pickled vegetable platter, pierogi, beet salad, kebabs, and more universal things like chicken liver paté, marinated mackerel, scallops, grilled salmon, and deviled eggs crowned with salmon roe. The dining room is designed like a train’s dining car, complete with curtained “windows” opening on a video screening the Russian countryside whipping by. Just imagine yourself taking a rail tour of banyas across Mother Russia, and then head downstairs for another schvitz.” [Reader]

“Sure, the food is pretty good and the room is nice, but those statements have to be followed by a qualifier: for a hotel restaurant,” says Julia Kramer of Mercadito Group and Ryan Poli’s latest spot, Little Market Brasserie. “The menu is simultaneously scatterbrained and boring: deviled eggs, poutine, lobster roll, roast chicken with harissa—why not just add sushi and call the place Hub 51?… The best food here is the stuff that will take years off your life. I’m talking about the stupidly delicious pull-apart bread, on which you’ll spread honey butter. I’m talking about the tender mushrooms. dripping with cream, that you’ll pile on toast and sprinkle with shallot marmalade. And you better believe I’m talking about the Big Baby, Poli’s homage to the griddled cheeseburgers popular on the city’s Southwest Side (where the chef grew up).” [TOC]

David Tamarkin says Gather is emphatically not a late night joint: “instead, it’s been built from top to bottom as a place to bring the parents, go on a third date or celebrate whatever upwardly mobile milestone Lincoln Square residents celebrate—kid got on the cheerleading squad, sister got into Harvard. If you’re with a group, great—Gather is built for this, and has a section on the menu (“gather and share”) dedicated to feeding you. It’s made up of dishes like charcuterie boards, a shareable short rib chili (you spread it on corn cakes), steak tartare served with housemade brioche. These are satisfying enough but will likely be consumed without comment. Hey, at least the food’s not getting in the way of conversation, right?” [TOC]

And a bar review of The Monarch by Kramer tries really hard not to blurt right out that she doesn’t think a chef of Andrew Brochu’s caliber will be at a Wicker Park beer bar for long: “Andrew Brochu could cook the menu at the Monarch in his sleep… Those dill-pickle wings, though not exactly radical, were at least interesting. And few other bars in the city could be bothered to put a Bibb lettuce salad with fresh chives (a simple dish that’s been in Brochu’s playbook since K&K;) on the menu. The diner burger will either kill you or make your night that much stronger: It’s two beef patties, cheddar cheese, special sauce and a potato bun into which it all just melts. The fried-green tomato sandwich is juicy and crunchy and buttery, but it would be much better without the Gruyère, just as everything from the salad to the burger would be better if Brochu quit dousing them with salt.” [TOC]

Kenny Zuckerberg returns to a onetime favorite, Naha, somewhat guiltily after chasing the latest hot thing. The result: “In 2013, Carrie Nahabedian doesn’t get the kind of press that someone like Stephanie Izard gets, but their cooking styles are similar. Both marry sweet with savory flavors in ways that might at first sound odd, but end up working… Izard does it better. Her flavors are bolder and more sharply contrasting. At Naha, the sweetness dominates rich-tasting but otherwise muted broths, sauces and marinades with spicing that’s too subtle to work the kind of magic that happens on Randolph Street… I’m not sure whether Naha has declined or my tastes have just changed since those days when I loved it. You’ll probably find me contemplating that question with everyone else at the next iteration of Fulton-Market-Buzz-Restaurant.” [FOF]

Our reviews of Sumi Robata Bar, The Barrelhouse Flat, Farmhouse and Sable are here.

Nagrant Shoots the Breeze at Reno, Just To Watch Time Fly; Kramer Thinks Poli